RNZAF carries out rare Antarctica mid-winter medical evacuation

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130H Hercules crew has today carried out a rare medical evacuation of a patient from Antarctica, taking advantage of a narrowing gap in the weather to fly the challenging night-time mission.

CAPTION: A staff member from the United States’ McMurdo Station in Antarctica is boarded onto a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130H to be flown to Christchurch for medical treatment. Photo supplied by McMurdo Station staff.

The patient, an American from McMurdo Station, is in a stable condition with a non-life threatening condition, but required medical treatment that could not be carried out in Antarctica.

Air Component Commander Air Commodore Andy Scott said flights to Antarctica at this time of year were very challenging due to the extreme Antarctic environment, changeable weather conditions and because there was no daylight.

“Apart from flying in a combat environment, night flying missions to Antarctica in the middle of winter present the most challenging and dangerous of conditions,” Air Commodore Scott said.

“The Hercules crew flew into Phoenix Airfield using night vision goggles.

“The first time this technology was used by the RNZAF to fly into Antarctica was in July 2021 for another medical evacuation.

“One of the pilots on today’s mission also flew on that mission.”

The Hercules flew from RNZAF Base Auckland to Christchurch on Tuesday in preparation for the flight.

It left Christchurch at 2am and touched down at Phoenix Airfield at 8.50am, and left shortly after 10am for the seven-to eight-hour return flight to Christchurch.

The aircraft was ‘hot fuelled’ on the ice, to protect the engines from the minus 33 degrees Centigrade.

“With a narrow gap of acceptable weather, the crew deployed early in the morning,” Air Commodore Scott said.

“The weather had deteriorated again on arrival and so they threaded the needle to get in when they did.”

Air Commodore Scott said at each stage of the journey the crew had to make “go, no go” decisions on whether to proceed.

“Our highly trained crew analyse the conditions every step of the way to ensure they could continue.”

Work by McMurdo Station staff to prepare the ice runway at Phoenix Airfield, by clearing snow and compacting it, had been completed on Wednesday.

With no airfields to divert to en route, the aircraft needed to be refuelled in Antarctica before making the journey home.

“We’re very pleased we have been able to successfully carry out this Antarctica flight today and get the patient to New Zealand to receive further medical treatment.,” Air Commodore Scott said.


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Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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